Updated on 09/17/2011 10:13PM

Guild agrees to shun Derby labor action


Churchill Downs Inc. pressed forward on two fronts yesterday in the area of accident insurance for jockeys, securing an agreement from the Jockeys' Guild not to disrupt business at the Kentucky Derby and planning to institute a $5 start fee at Calder Race Course to help pay for coverage of up to $1 million in medical bills for each rider there.

Churchill announced that it had reached an agreement with the guild on a request for a preliminary injunction that sought to bar the Guild from organizing any walkouts during Derby week.

The agreement, which was approved by Judge John Heyburn of U.S. District Court in western Kentucky, where Churchill had filed for the preliminary injunction, stipulates that the guild will not "directly or indirectly" encourage jockeys to walk out during the upcoming meet at Churchill's flagship track in Louisville, Ky., or attempt to seek additional compensation from owners or additional insurance coverage. As a result of the agreement, Churchill withdrew its request for preliminary injunction.

Churchill still has a lawsuit pending against the guild, alleging that the guild organized two walkouts last year at Churchill Downs and Hoosier Park in Indiana. The guild countersued, accusing the track of violating jockeys' free-speech rights.

In a separate action, Calder Race Course in Miami announced that it will begin assessing owners a $5 charge per start to help defray the cost of increased insurance coverage. Churchill Downs Inc., which owns Calder, reported that it has arranged for $1 million in accident insurance for all of its tracks with the exception of Hollywood Park in California, where jockeys are covered under workers' compensation laws.

Calder, which opens its meeting on Monday, is instituting a house rule mandating the charge. Ken Dunn, the president and general manager at Calder, said the new policy will cost approximately $25 per mount, according to figures provided by Churchill Downs Inc.

"We are asking owners to participate willingly because we believe we are providing a great service for them," Dunn said. "Since they are employing jockeys as independent contractors, they bear some responsibility for accident insurance, and all we are asking is a small contribution towards those ends."

Churchill Downs Inc. has not decided how to pay for the increased cost of the new policy at its other tracks, said Julie Koenig Loignon, the company's director of communications. Formulas at other tracks will depend on state law and negotiations between track management and horsemen, she said.

"There's not going to be a one-size-fits-all approach," Koenig Loignon said. "Some horsemen's groups have different ideas about how to do this."

Churchill Downs Inc., which owns seven racetracks, opens its meet at Hollywood Park in Los Angeles on Friday and its flagship track in Louisville on April 30.

At Calder, the board of directors for the Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association said its members do not want to pay the start fee. "Nobody in our organization believes this is the responsibility of the owner," said Sam Gordon, the newly elected president of the Florida horsemen's group. "What's more, we have an existing contract with Calder and they are now trying to add on something that wasn't there before, which is against the spirit of the contract. We believe the track is making money, most of the jockeys are making money, but 98 percent of us who own horses are losing money and the other 2 percent are lying."

Gordon said that the horsemen's bookkeeping office, which is controlled by the horsemen's association, will not collect the money for the track.

They'll have to bill every owner individually for the $5," Gordon said. "We won't help them collect it."

In a related development, U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield, a congressman from Kentucky, has sent a letter to the Jockeys' Guild's executive director, Wayne Gertmenian, asking the guild to comply with 23 different requests for records or explanations of the guild's policies, financial documents, and Gertmenian's qualifications. The letter asks the guild to comply with the requests by May 2.

In his letter, Whitfield said he was making the requests "in connection with an ongoing investigation by the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations concerning the adequacy of on-track injury health insurance for jockeys."

Whitfield was appointed as chairman of the subcommittee earlier this year.

"It's one aspect of an ongoing investigation that is at the very early stages," said Ed Miles, a spokesman for Whitfield.

Whitfield's wife, Connie, is chairwoman of the Kentucky Equine Drug Council, an advisory group, and a member of the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority, the state's racing commission.

The letter cites media reports questioning the accuracy of a resume posted by Gertmenian on the website of Pepperdine University, where he is a tenured professor; investigations of the guild's use of state funds in California and Delaware; and litigation brought by a former guild treasurer, Eddie King, alleging that the guild misused funds and blocked King from reviewing financial documents. King was removed from the guild in November last year by the guild's board.

In previous interviews, Gertmenian has claimed that the positions listed on his resume are "valid," although several positions listed on the resume, including high-ranking jobs in the Nixon and Ford administrations, could not be verified.

Guild officials did not respond to requests for comment on Wednesday about Whitfield's letter.

- additional reporting by Mike Welsch.